Paignton film critic Tom Leins runs the gauntlet with an explosive selection of action DVDs.
Rejuvenated by the bloodthirsty fourth Rambo movie, Sylvester Stallone seems determined to indulge his most shameless crowd-pleasing antics during the remainder of his career. Ensemble action movie The Expendables (Lionsgate) represents the fruits of his recent labours.
For this brutally efficient pet project Stallone has assembled a crack unit of action heroes past and present for a chaotic caper about a nihilistic team of mercenaries who take on a glorified suicide mission to liberate the corruption-plagued Latin American island of Velena. Trading in Rambo’s minimalist dialogue for a more wisecracking tone, The Expendables is a self-consciously high-octane affair that prizes visceral thrills over intellectual flourishes.
Although 64-year-old Stallone’s absurd physique and jaunty goatee beard won’t be enough to convince viewers that he’s part of the same generation as Jet Li and Jason Statham, the eclectic cast is pretty well judged on the whole, even if the one-scene cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have attracted more attention than they deserve. However, Mickey Rourke is in scene-stealing form as semi-retired Expendable Tool, and his emotive mid-movie monologue sticks out like a sore thumb amid the glib quips and forced bonhomie on display elsewhere. With a sequel already rattling around Stallone’s battered skull, The Expendables will be must-see viewing for film fans of a certain disposition. Although it’s too uneven to rank as an action classic, there’s enough inventive bloodshed to keep you entertained for the duration. Say what you want about Sylvester Stallone’s mid-life crisis, at least its entertaining to watch.
With Jason Statham having moved onto bigger – if not necessarily better – things, his jumpsuit in the Death Race franchise needed filling, and implausibly enough, the man to enter the fray is Luke Goss, former member of 80s proto-boyband Bros! Death Race 2 (Universal) is effectively a prequel to the 2008 Paul WS Anderson movie about an incarcerated speedway driver who is forced to compete against his fellow inmates in a post-industrial prison contest. As this movie reaches its finale, the bigger picture – and indeed the central connection – suddenly becomes clear. Carl Lucas (Goss) is a getaway driver who becomes embroiled in a bloodbath when a robbery goes wrong. In prison Lucas finds himself cast as the lead character in a vicious televised game show, and he is forced to rely on his violent habits to survive. What he doesn’t reckon on is the bounty placed on his head by a paranoid crime boss who believes that Lucas is about to cough up his secrets.
The producers – including B-movie maestro Roger Corman (the man behind the original 1975 Death Race 2000 movie) – have fleshed the cast out with an assortment of B-list supporting players, including Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) and Danny Trejo (Con Air), all of whom help to lend the South Africa-based movie a slick Hollywood sheen. The plot may be almost identical to the earlier movie – and Goss himself seems hell-bent on presenting himself as a cut-price version of Jason Statham – but the movie is so slick and violent I can’t see action fans complaining too heavily. What’s more, knowing Paul WS Anderson’s propensity for churning out sequels – witness the Resident Evil saga for proof – I wouldn’t bet against this series being extended even further. All in all, a highly respectable straight-to-DVD thriller.
One larger-than-life action star who missed out on getting his hands dirty with The Expendables was Steven Seagal, who allegedly didn’t trust producer Avi Lerner after a prior disagreement. However, fans of the chunky hardman needn’t go home empty handed this Christmas, as the star’s latest project Deadly Crossing (Optimum) is poised for release at the end of the month. Interestingly, Deadly Crossing isn’t actually a movie, but the pilot episode of a new cop show in which Seagal gets top billing. Variously known as True Justice or Southern Justice, depending on what you read, the show is ostensibly a police procedural in the CSI vein, with Seagal playing to type, much in the same way that David Caruso lapses into self-parody in CSI: Miami. As you might expect, Seagal – playing the biblically-named Elijah Kane – relies less on traditional forensic detective work, and more on pulverising faces and snapping bones.
The swollen ensemble cast diverts the focus from Seagal on occasion, but when Seagal is on screen he makes his presence felt by practising with his samurai sword in his office between phone calls, or throwing snakes at backwater hoodlums. If you want to sample a more sophisticated Southern-fired copshow try Justified for size, as watching Timothy Olyphant drawling dialogue written by Elmore Leonard is inevitably more impressive than watching Steven Seagal drawling dialogue written by Steven Seagal. That said, Deadly Crossing is slicker than many of the identikit US cop-shows clogging up the schedules, and the enduringly popular Seagal’s involvement should ensure that it will be a big, sweaty licence to print money. Channel Five apparently holds the UK rights to the show, so look out for it in the new year. But be warned, Seagal himself croons the theme tune, so dig out your earplugs.